Second former GlaxoSmithKline researcher admits stealing trade secrets

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GlaxoSmithKline building (GSK)

Another scientist who previously worked for GlaxoSmithKline has admitted conspiring to steal trade secrets from the company and pass them on to a Chinese rival.

Tao Li, 45, pleaded guilty to using Nanjing-based Renopharma—set up with former GSK colleague Yu Xue, who pleaded guilty to similar charges in late August, and compatriot Yan Mei—as a “repository of stolen information from GSK”, says the Department of Justice.

Xue—who worked at GSK’s R&D unit in Philadelphia before being fired in 2016—sent a substantial number of GSK’s scientific documents, some of which contained GSK trade secrets, to Li and Mei at Renopharma in China using email and flash drives, according to prosecutors, who say the intention was “to convert GSK’s information for their economic benefit.”

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The data contained information on “multiple biopharmaceutical products under development, GSK research data, and GSK processes regarding the research, development, and manufacturing of biopharmaceutical products,” according to the DOJ. The original indictment documents suggested information was passed on programs including an anti-HER3 antibody and drugs targeting tumor necrosis factor, BCMA and fibroblast growth factor receptor treatments.

Li was arrested in 2016 after an FBI investigation resulted in the discovery of confidential information on his PC sent by Xue. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4, shortly after Xue’s Dec. 18 sentencing date. Both insisted initially that they did not think the materials they transferred were confidential as they believed the information was patented and in the public domain.

The value of the information contained in Xue's documents will be the subject of an evidentiary hearing before she and Li are sentenced to gauge the seriousness of the crime and the financial damage caused to GSK. The pair face a maximum 10 years in prison.

“Li illegally stole trade secrets to benefit himself and his company, which was financed by the Chinese government,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain, although legal counsel for Li has claimed that funding came from local government entities, according to a report in Philly.com.

“The lifeblood of companies like GSK is its intellectual property, and when that property is stolen and transferred to a foreign country, it threatens thousands of jobs here in America,” continues Swain.  “Not only is this a serious crime, but it is literally a form of economic warfare against American interests.”

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